May 15, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: Why the coronavirus is keeping some Iowans with Trump

Illustration of President Trump in military garb

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump has called himself a "wartime president" leading the country in a battle against the coronavirus — and that idea is sticking with some Iowa swing voters who think he should be the one to see this through.

Between the lines: These focus group participants also say they're less focused on national politics and more plugged in to what's going on in their region, consuming mostly local news and getting information from their governor.

  • That means they're not seeing everything Trump is doing, and they're definitely not seeing what Joe Biden is doing or hearing his messages on the virus.
  • Not a single participant had watched a Biden virtual event or heard anything from him beyond a tweet.

These were the biggest takeaways from our (virtual) Engagious/FPG focus group on Monday.

  • We heard from eight voters who flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.
  • Two of the voters said they plan to vote for Biden.
  • While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, these responses show how some voters are thinking and talking about the 2020 election in crucial counties.

Why it matters: The findings could put a drag on Biden's ability to win back swing voters by arguing Trump has mishandled the coronavirus, depending on how broadly — and for how long — the prevailing sentiment in Monday's group holds.

  • These voters disagree with things Trump has done and wish he'd acted sooner, but as America slogs through a pandemic that's expected to last beyond 2020, most say they are willing to trust the guy who was there with them in the beginning to see them through.
  • A recent Iowa poll showed Trump beating Biden by two points.

What they're saying: “Trump’s already handling the pandemic. He’s already in there," said Rachel W. "The first stimulus check went out smoothly; hopefully he can do another one."

  • Monique C. said she can vote to re-elect Trump and still take issue with his actions. "Support doesn’t mean not being critical, and I am very critical of our president," she said, "It doesn’t mean I agree with most of what he’s doing, but in this time especially, being divisive doesn’t get us anywhere. We need to be smart and critical."

There's a sense among these voters that Trump is managing about as well as any other president would.

  • "I can’t blame him. He was listening to leaders and advisers and he was making the best decision he knew at that point," said Teresa J. "To blame him serves no purpose. He did what he felt was best with the information available."
  • "I’d like to see Trump have another run at it," she added. Teresa did say she wishes Trump would have "encouraged states to shut down and get a handle on this" sooner.
  • Even when confronted with the unemployment numbers — over 36 million have filed jobless claims in the past two months — and the declining economy, these voters feel Trump isn't responsible.
  • "You can’t blame Trump for the unemployment rate because of the COVID-19. You can’t blame him for the COVID-19," said Joe W. "I’m still a supporter and I feel like Trump can put us back to where we need to be."

Local governments are top of mind for these voters. “I’ve tuned out a lot of talk other than my governor because that’s what affecting me most," said Teresa.

  • "I haven't been tuning in to anything," said Brittany L. of 2020 campaign virtual events. "I'm kind of staying to my local and state government right now, just because they know what's going on in our region."

Yes, but: Polls show more Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of the coronavirus than approve, and more than half of Americans say they're very concerned about the economy right now.

  • “Maybe we need a different perspective on the situation," said Little T., who also said that he lost trust in Trump when he was "downplaying" the virus. “We gave Trump an opportunity. What does Biden have?”
  • And Brittany L. summed up her feelings this way: “Sometimes you don’t always feel like you’re getting a straight answer about what’s going on.”
Go deeper